A few weeks ago we did something we’ve never done before… we invited our priest over for lunch. He was going to bless our house and then eat our noonday meal with us. I was nervous. My house isn’t big and with 12 people living here there’s not much space for entertaining. We have shelves of homeschooling materials, walls that need paint, couches that need repairs, not enough seating in our living room for the 12 of us let alone another person. I was worried about the kids and what kinds of things would come out of their mouths. I suppose any mother would be since, after all, I was having someone holy come over! Additionally, I fretted over what to serve for lunch. I didn’t think our normal fare of corndogs and tater tots would fit the bill for this day. We were having our house blessed and that’s a big deal! I settled on chicken cordon bleu, rice, green beans and rolls. I prayed that it wouldn’t burn while it was in the oven. I also prayed that it would be edible. I’m normally a great cook but I worried a lot about this one meal. I wanted the day to go just right. I wanted Father to feel both physically and spiritually fed by coming to our home.
Father arrived. We did the house blessing and I led him to each room, saying a little prayer that they were still clean. Living with 10 kids and having limited space, well, there’s only so much you can do to keep things straightened up. I cringed when I opened the garage door, since that’s our catch-all and storage, but he didn’t seem fazed by the mess and we finished with the blessing. When we were done we all sat in the living room chatting and waiting for the chicken to be ready to eat. We talked about many things, most very light in nature, and all the kids were gathered around waiting to see what Father had to say. One of our little girls insisted on calling him God even after we corrected her. It amused me to know that she was happy to have “God” in our home. If only she could understand the real truth in her words! While our priest is in no way God, he is a representative of Him and it was such a blessing to have him there with us that day.
Why was this one day so important to me? Isn’t Father Rafael just a man just like everyone else? Well, the short answer is yes… and no. You see, our priests, while mere humans, also put on the clothing of Christ. Pope Benedict XVI says and the Catholic Church teaches, “Just as in Baptism an “exchange of clothing” is given, an exchanged destination, a new existential communion with Christ, so also in priesthood there is an exchange: in the administration of the sacraments, the priest now acts and speaks “in persona Christi’. In the sacred mysteries, he does not represent himself and does not speak expressing himself, but speaks for the Other, for Christ.” So yes, while our priest is just like us struggling with human problems, temptations, and sin, he’s different too.
It was a pleasure to have our priest over for lunch. When he left I wondered to myself why we hadn’t done it sooner. I know those worries I stated above were the main reasons but I know it was also because I was intimidated by having a priest, someone I consider much more holy that I am, over to see exactly how I really live my life. My worries were unfounded though and it gave our family an opportunity to see Father in a different light… a regular guy who yearns for interaction from those he surrounds himself with each day. While he represents Christ and takes on the clothing of Christ, he is also just a man. It was good to see him outside of our church setting. He’s often so busy with serving our community that there aren’t many opportunities to socialize with him on a personal level. I was so happy our family was able to do this. It was good for my husband, it was good for me, and most importantly it was good for our children.
As Catholics we are encouraged to pray for more priests. We are asked to pray for the priesthood for our own sons. Living in a rural area where we only have one Catholic Church to serve two full counties I know that our priest is stretched thin. He gives so much of himself to others. He has little time for himself. He faces criticism on every level, both from within and from the outside world. It’s a scary thought to pray for the priesthood for my sons. Can I honetly say want this life for them? The answer is yes.
The priesthood is such an honorable calling that I would be thrilled if one, or all, of my sons decided to become priests. In fact, at our nightly family prayer I pray for this exact thing… that if it is God’s will that He call one or all of my children to His service. It’s a hard prayer to pray knowing the life that a priest or religious person leads, the criticism they face, and the loneliness that can come with the calling. Still, if it is God’s desire to call my children I pray they answer that call. I know that within that life there is also great joy and love as well. Of course, I want them to heed God’s call in whatever way that may be, but I pray that we are lucky enough for God to choose one or more of our children to be His servant in the priesthood, a brother, a nun, or any religious life.
Our church needs more priests, nuns, and religious men and women. While some areas are flourishing with men and women answering the call to serve God and others, many areas are suffering from a lack of religious people. What can we do to encourage our children to listen and discern that call from God?
- Pray for vocations, especially with your children. There are specific prayers for vocations but at our home I pray, “Dear Lord, if it is your will, I pray that you call my children to Your service. I pray that they listen and heed that call.” I pray this with my kids so that they know I am praying for them to discern what God is calling them to do, even if it’s not to become a priest or a nun.
- Talk about vocations. Vocations are not just a calling to be a religious but what God is calling you to do with your life in general. My vocation is to be a wife and mother. We often encourage our kids when they say, “I want to be a police officer” but do we encourage them when they say, “I want to be a nun”? Do they know there is an option to be a priest, a nun, a monk, or some other religious calling? When we talk about these religious vocations our kids naturally begin to think about them in the context of, “is it right for me?”
- Invite your priest(or other religious people) over for dinner. Get to know him on a personal basis. Let your children see that a priest is a regular guy. He has interests all his own. We used to have a priest at our parish who was interested in astronomy and racing cars. My kids loved knowing those things about him! After having our priest over for lunch a few weeks ago my children had a new excitement over seeing Father Rafael at Mass and at the church. They are already wondering when we can have him over again.
- If you are as unfortunate as we are to live in an area where there are no nuns, only one priest, and no other religious men and women (unless we choose to make a long drive) use the internet to expose your children to these men and women. There are so many websites and pictures online that talk about what priests, monks, brothers and sisters do, what they look like, and where they live. Use technology to bring their world into yours.
- If you happen to run into a religious, stop and talk to them for a few minutes. Recently at the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta I stopped by and talked to the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. When speaking to them I could see the joy and the love that they had for their chosen vocation. Their eyes just sparkled with happiness. I want this for my girls! I told the Sisters that one of my girls in particular has often said she is thinking of becoming a nun. I asked if I could take their picture to share with her when I got home. They agreed and said they would pray for my daughter. She was thrilled when I came home and told her!
Our Church needs more religious people. We need more priests and nuns. We need those who are willing to offer their lives up to Christ and others. We need those who are willing to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. It is a hard life to lead and a heavy cross to carry. It is an honorable life though, living for Christ and others instead of ourselves. We, as parents, need to encourage our sons and daughters to listen to God and discern if He is calling them to become priests or nuns. If they decide that God is calling them it is our job to support them as they undertake these vocations. It is not easy to give up the world and take up Christ’s cross.
There is a quote that says, “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called”. As parents we can help in equipping our children to hear and answer God’s beckoning to serve Him through the priesthood or other religious life. The question is, will we?